TEDTalks Marla Spivak: Why bees are disappearing

While listening to the restless humming inside the hives, spring seemed a long way off this weekend. Though rumours of snowdrops persist and the daylight is stretching further, I’m impatient to open our hives and see whether our queens, Myrtle, Chamomile and Chili, have survived the winter. As I walked home, I remembered this inspiring TEDTalk by Marla Spivak, a researcher in bee behaviour and biology, and watched it again for a dose of honeybee. Here it is, in case you missed it.

TEDTalks Marla Spivak: Why bees are disappearing 

Our fascination for this wonderful creature, the bee, grows as does our need for them. The bees are disappearing, while there is ‘Worldwide 300% increase in crop production requiring bee pollination’, says Marla. But her talk is hopeful because it reminds us that there is much we can do to help the bee. Get planting bee-friendly flowers for spring: RHS Perfect for Pollinators Plant List.

I hope you enjoyed this video as much as I do each time.

Marla’s talk is on TED.com: http://www.ted.com/talks/marla_spivak_why_bees_are_disappearing.html
Her bio is available on TED’s website: http://www.ted.com/speakers/marla_spivak.html

For more TEDTalks:

TED.com http://www.ted.com/
Follow TED news on Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/tednews
Like TED on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/TED

Walking in her footsteps

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The summer was too good to last and when rain broke through the gathering clouds last Saturday, the bees were spared their Apiguard treatment for another week.

Bank holiday Monday was a different story: blues skies, warm sunshine and a light breeze. As we were south-west, John and I decided to explore Carshalton, a sleepy suburban area in the borough of Sutton, Greater London.

Carshalton is situated in the valley of the River Wandle, which is the source of the village’s ponds and springs. Pretty parishes, country pubs and cottages populate this peaceful place.

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We planned to walk around a beautiful park spotted on the map, but when I saw the sign ‘Honeywood Museum’ and ‘Ecology Centre’ it was game over.

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Sutton Ecology Centre is a nature conservation area open to the public seven days a week. The grounds offer an educational wildlife trail to explore and learn about native habitats.

The centre is part of a fantastic project to encourage biodiversity gardens. Illustrated information signs were dotted along the trail to show people where to spot wildlife and how to create spaces for native habitats in their own gardens. Dragonflies flew over reeds, hoverflies dangled in the air and butterflies fluttered among trees. It was a pollinator paradise.

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We did eventually discover the park that we set out to find, populated by picnickers and squirrels, and also followed the streams and bridges across the River Wandle.

Later that day my mum sent a text that said: ‘Your ancestor called Sarah was born in Carshalton in 1848 and married William Parsons. Parsons was my grandmother’s maiden name.’

‘Emma’ and ‘Sarah’ are old family names, and as I reflected on the day having walked in the footsteps of my ancestor I wondered if Sarah Parsons had stopped beneath the same shady trees of the churchyard looking out across the ponds.

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Next week: as I’m still on the move – Bees in the Trees!

Rain or shine, the otters like it fine

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With the passing of the winter solstice and the lengthening of days, the bees are too busy preparing for spring for us to visit. Otters, on the other hand, are always happy to entertain their guests.

WWT London Wetland Centre is a popular nature reserve close to the heart of the city and described as a ‘haven for birds, wildlife and people’. Considering how close I live to the reserve it was the ideal place to enjoy a day out with my mum and walk-off recent over-indulgences.

It was a cold, grey Sunday with rain threatening in every cloud, but there was plenty of winter wildlife to see. The courtyard’s main glass observatory offered incredible views of the reedy lake, with ducks, geese and wading birds, against the misty, yet familiar, skyline of the BT Tower, London Eye and the Shard.

After bird watching – my mum’s a bit of a twitcher – and a walk around the lagoons, we went to see the otters being fed.

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The wetland is home to a family of Asian short-clawed otters who live in a specially designed holt where visitors can watch them swim, play and feed. In the wild, Asian otters are threatened by habitat loss and hunting, so this family is part of a breeding and conservation programme. Why not the European otter? The keeper explained that the Asian otter provides better opportunities for observation and entertainment. ‘We know from experience that the Asian short-clawed otter exhibits well, whereas the European ones tend to be more solitary, more shy. If we had six or seven European otters, they would probably be at the back, drinking wine.’

The otters were fun to watch, but I’m not sure that they found us very entertaining. When they realised we didn’t have any food, they soon grew bored of us.

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The sleepy otters yawned and dipped their tails in water until the keeper arrived for the daily feed. They watched him with intent as he entered the holt and chased him across the rocks till he stopped to throw pieces of meat.

008 009What followed can only be described as an otter feeding frenzy. With tiger-like teeth, they easily tore and ripped apart chunks of meat, gulping and swallowing greedily.

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While the otters enjoyed their meal, the keeper apologised to the crowd for making a quick exit. ‘They only tolerate me when I have food, but once they know it’s gone then my ankle might look tasty,’ he explained. ‘Not that I’m scared or anything’ as he cautiously backed away from the pool. As if on cue, the otters paused tearing chunks of meat to watch his hasty retreat behind the trees at the top of the holt. They looked at each other with narrowly slit eyes, then ran across the rocks and up the hill to cut him off. There was a commotion in the bushes, but to everyone’s relief the keeper ran out with both his ankles.

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These otters will eat almost anything, apparently, which made me think that this morehen was braver than the keeper as he waded in their pool.

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The otters were not the only wildlife devising plans. I saw this plotting pigeon sitting on a bridge, until he caught me watching and purposefully looked like a pigeon again.

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The ducks and geese were more relaxed and happily enjoying swimming in the lagoons as the rain began to fall. I’m not sure what type of duck this green-eyed beauty is, but the exotic-looking goose is Egyptian.

016b 016cAt 3pm it was the bird feed with the warden. So we watched as the geese eagerly waddled up and the children threw feed in the water. By this time we were getting cold so it was time to leave, but I look forward to returning in spring to see more wetland wildlife including slow worms, dragonflies and bats.

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I really recommend a visit to WWT London Wetland Centre. Rain, wind or shine – the animals don’t mind. There is lots to see in all seasons, although for me the highlight was the otter feed.

A very Happy New Year everyone and may 2013 bring luck, love, prosperity and good fortune!

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Related links

WWT London Wetland Centre
Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust (WWT)
Nothing hotter than an otter – Emily Heath of Adventures in Beeland writes about her visit to WWT London Wetland Centre
ZSL London Zoo ‘Keeper for a Day’: dreams do come true – my favourite animal adventure of 2012, being a zoo keeper at London Zoo for the day

Lions and tigers and bees…

The magnificent Royal Bengal Tiger. Sadly, only 3,000 tigers survive in the wild today. Just 3,000. Image courtesy of anekoho / FreeDigitalPhotos.net.

‘I’m not a cat person because I’ve never been bitten by a radioactive cat,’ said Ed Byrne, speaking at last night’s ZSL London Zoo ‘Roar with Laughter’ charity comedy gig. The event was hosted at Hammersmith Apollo Theatre in London, with top comedians Phill Jupitus, Andy Parsons, Jon Richardson, Sarah Kendall, Richard Herring, Ed Byrne, Lucy Porter and Greg Burns who all generously donated their time to make us roar with laughter and help ZSL to save the tiger.

The fundraiser for tigers was a lovely night out with Emily and Drew. We enjoyed the comedians and wearing our free tiger masks! I had booked the tickets weeks ago to celebrate the end of a challenging year of beekeeping. The London Zoo comedy was a poignant reminder that honeybees are not the only creatures who are disappearing.

So this week’s post is dedicated to two stripy species in need of SOS! Tigers and bees – sorry, no lions.

Save our stripes

The tiger is my favourite wild cat, so it makes me sad that these beautiful animals are endangered and may soon vanish from our forests. Only 3,000 tigers survive in the wild today and just 300 wild Sumatran tigers remain in Indonesia. Tiger populations are threatened by deforestation as humans push further into tiger territory, which has shrunk to an estimated 7% of its former size. Tigers also face threats from poaching for medicine, magic and souvenirs.

I met this lovely Sumatran tiger at ZSL London Zoo earlier this year. While I would dearly love to see tigers living free in the wild, sometimes the wild is not there.

ZSL is raising money to help save the Sumatran tiger through conservation activities in natural habitats as well as building a new Tiger Territory at London Zoo. The exhibit is due to open in spring 2013 and will cost £3.6 million to build.

If you would like to find out more about ZSL’s field conservation work in key tiger ranges including Russia, Bangladesh and Indonesia, the new Tiger Territory and how to help support the tiger SOS, visit ZSL Sumatran tiger campaign.

‘With just 300 Sumatran tigers left in the wild,’ says ZSL ‘[We want] to take action to ensure this vulnerable sub-species does not face the same fate as the Bali, Caspian and Javan tigers, now lost to the world forever.’

Bee lovely and help save the bees

A lovely bee that I saw munching on pink flowers in Regent’s Park this summer.

Loss of habitat and human activities also threaten the honeybee as well as many other bee species and insect pollinators. So I was very pleased to hear that Neal’s Yard Remedies (NYR) has re-launched the Bee Lovely Campaign to raise awareness for the plight of the bee. The campaign urges people to sign the petition to ban the use of powerful pesticides, neonictinoids (neonics), in the UK.

‘Using new technology, neonics penetrate the plant and attack the nervous system of insects that feed off them – posing a deadly threat to all pollinators. Neonics are 7000 times more toxic than DDT, a chemical pesticide the UK government banned in 1984,’ says NYR in their press release for the campaign.

The petition will be taken to Downing Street when it reaches 100,000 signatures. Last year it was signed by over 92,000 people worldwide, so please ‘bee lovely’ and spread the word! Supporters can sign the petition at NYR stores nationwide or online, click here. The petition closing date is 30 November 2012.

Tiger-bee! Orangey and stripy!

The campaign also features a beautiful range of bee-inspired products that blend organic honey with divine orange and mandarin essential oils. The Bee Lovely range includes: Bee Lovely Busy Bee Balm, Bee Lovely Bath & Shower Gel, Bee Lovely Handwash and Bee Lovely Body Lotion. A beautiful book about bees accompanies the Bee Lovely Campaign when you buy a product in store!

To find out more about NYR’s Bee Lovely Campaign, click here. I will be posting NYR’s blogger badge on my blog, so please share it too!

Related links

ZSL London Zoo ‘Keeper for a Day’: dreams do come true
Disappearing bees – countdown to catastrophe or one to watch?